Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Small Church: A little of this, a little of that.

As I sit here in the confines of my office, surrounded by the pastoral trappings of the church, I think about our future.

The church as we know it is a mix of GPS and stained glass.  It is a mix of history, both recent and ancient and of modern culture.  It's a mix of the pipe organ and the electric guitar.  It's a mix of the Public library and of the HD Television.  Clearly the mission of the modern church requires understanding that the mission is a mix of the old and the new.

And in the church, sometimes we find that a tension exits between the old and the new.  This happened here in our church recently when we replaced the hymnals for our worship service.  You wouldn't think people would get worked up about hymnals would you?  After all, it's just songs on paper, right?  There were some who thought the hymnals we were using, which were published in 1956, were good enough.   There were other people who felt that it was time to upgrade to a new hymnal that included some of the more modern music as well as the traditional music we have become accustomed to.  So as you can see, there are times when there is a tension between the old and the new.  The people who wanted the older hymnal were threatened by something new.  The people who wanted a newer hymnal felt like the old one was irrelevant and obsolete.

Although this is a truth every Christian must understand, it sometimes becomes a barrier to the mission of the church.  What is it that makes it so difficult for human beings to make adjustments in their lives?  Why is it so difficult for churches make adjustments?  Or do they simply not see the need?  Yet, churches today continue to use the same methods that were used thirty, even forty years ago.

I lived in England for a year and served a baptist church there.  As a Staff Person at the largest baptist church in the area I was given opportunities to preach at other churches from time to time.  There was one church that I was asked to preach at several times.  I'm sure it had been at one time a vibrant and wonderful church.  But at the time I was there, it was five or six people who worshiped twice a month in a tiny building in a tiny English village.  Five or six people...that's all that was left.  I wonder if there was ever a time when they thought "Maybe we should make some changes."  I don't know if that ever happened, but if it did, they either didn't make changes or didn't change enough.  I've always wondered how they got to that point. 

I write these things not because of some need to desire to communicate certain values or beliefs of mine, but simply as a way of processing and thinking through some of these issues of the small church.  In the coming weeks, I am going to try to write a series of entries about my observations and questions about the future of the small church.  As I contemplate the future of the small church, and especially of my small church, I am convinced that it's understanding of and willingness to embrace change lies at the very center of it's future.      

So God, bring the changes we need.  Give me a heart to embrace your changes not mine.  Make my desire to lead my people a burning fire that can't be put out.  Give them a burning desire for Jesus.  Amen.